Version 43, Philip Palmer Rothdas book review RSS
4.0 Stars

An odd, brutal, funny, and well crafted sci fi mystery of shifting perspectives. The book is recent, but in many ways it reminds me of classic 70's sci-fi. Like a lot of 70's sci-fi, it is less about science and more about the fantastic. There are ray beams and space ships and such, but there isn't any sort of consistent basis to them, and they exist right along side quantum powers & magic & time dilation & psychic abilities. The book also has the sort of shifting perspectives & unstable ground that you find in Philip K Dick, or in something like _The Thing_ , where just a few new pieces of information can completely shift the narrative ground you thought you were standing on. Version 43 has many of these shifts, as successive versions of a cyborg cop are incarnated to try and deal with a bizarre murder on a lawless planet. With each iteration and reveal, you learn more about the planet, the characters, and what might be going on. This largely works and is enjoyable, even if it starts to go off the rails a bit in the last 50 pages. Still, Palmer keeps things on the rails for much longer than I thought possible, and he does a really impressive job of story telling and plotting. I particularly liked the unreliable main character, a sort of murderous but lovably arrogant robo-cop with various shifting currents in his unconscious. His beau was also quite adorable. I'm usually not a fan of mysteries, but this one was very well done.

I would give the book an extra half star, but the 70's combination of magic, psychics, time-travel, etc. kept the story from feeling grounded or consistent enough for me to really, truly connect with it. It always felt more like an clever tale being spun out of cobwebs rather than something happening to real people. To paraphrase Simone Weil, "To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the novel".